Concert tickets bought on a whim – cheapest available – from a street vendor dressed in C18th garb (think Amadeus) – are never going to be the best seats in the house. Before setting off in our glad rags, however, I do check online to discover with some relief that the opera house does indeed exist, that we have paid the going price and, moreover, the concert is almost a sell- out.
We are in the middle of the second row of the balcony and it’s immediately obvious that we’re not going to be able to see a darned thing. The people in the front row are sitting on padded chairs and can lean forward on the cushioned edge of the balcony itself. Our seats are about four feet back from them but on exactly the same level: the rake starts in the row behind us. And no padding for economy bottoms; our chairs are wooden and with such a strong spring that when you stand, the seat crashes against the back of the chair like gunshot.
Not all the front row seats are full, however, so ActorLaddie and I agree that we’ll slip into some with a better view if the opportunity arises. And if not, well what the heck! It’s music and we can still listen. In the meantime, I take a few snaps of the glorious decoration and then ask one of the Japanese ladies in the row behind to take a photo of AL and I. You’ve probably noticed too that Japanese tourists rarely come out from behind their cameras and I think this skill is evident in the resulting photo.
The hall is filling up as we approach kick-off. Lots of Japanese, including many studenty types, plus some older Americans who have cleverly come with seat-padding built-in, as it were.
There are the usual notices around the hall about not taking photos or recording during the concert. We are welcome, however, to photograph the orchestra before the music starts, which I do. I can hear the tuning up, AL can see the conductor’s baton rise, the lights dim and … CRASH! … all of the Japanese ladies who had been sitting behind us stand up and scoot over to the remaining front row seats.
We listen to the Presto from Mozart’s Haffner Symphony and, during the applause, quietly slip into the seats in the row behind which have been vacated by our photographer friend and her companions. These have a slightly better view, being a bit higher: I can see the top of the violin bows and most of the double bass. ActorLaddie, being taller, can actually see some musicians.
As the orchestra starts again (extracts from Don Giovanni, if you are following this in Surroundsound), a young Japanese lady arrives from I-know-not where to sit in front of us. I am at this point waiting for some of the ushers to start removing seats before the music stops and we all move round again. But ushers are there none, which is something of a shame because I have a job for them.
The young lady in front of me has her mobile on; is texting, in fact, using a stylus to write the Japanese characters. It’s jolly distracting as the light is right in front of me. I tap her on the shoulder, point to her mobile and shake my head, giving her the full benefit of my Hard Stare. She pouts a bit and says “I’m writing.” I put my finger to my lips and shake my head again. She curls herself around so that her mobile is now open under her coat; she is still texting and gives me the odd sulky look but the light is no longer in my eyes so I let it go. I’ll need to see her mother afterwards though.
At the next lot of applause, some people in the back row decide to improve their view by standing. As the orchestra starts on the Adagio from the Violin Concerto, an American chap in the row in front of the back row also decided to stand, which is not popular with the woman who is sitting behind him nor with his wife. A certain amount of berating ensues and I’m not the only one who ends up shushing them.
Now, I don’t think I mentioned that the balcony extends along either side of the opera house, with just the one row of seats on these wings. The seats on the left were occupied by the traditionally built Americans; those on the right by Japanese students. Part way through Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, there was a crash from somewhere on the American side followed by considerable kerfuffle. As the piece ended, an American gentleman made his way from the centre of the kerfuffle and sat on one of the empty seats in the row in front of us. It’s obvious at a glance that he has the unmistakeable tremor and I wonder if, perhaps, he’d lost his balance or something. Momentarily I wonder if I should offer him some Emergency Sinemet before dismissing it as a crazy idea.
The last piece before the interval is the Rondo Alla Turca and the conductor has us clapping along. Brilliant.
As soon as the interval starts, a family come in holding reservation slips for the front row seats currently being occupied by the Japanese ladies who were sitting where we are now. I’m all prepared to move again but the Japanese ladies disappear off to who knows where – Japan, possibly.
ActorLaddie goes off to the loo and, on passing an usher, speaks to him about the number of people who were on their mobiles during the concert. Usher shrugs and says “It’s the Chinese. Nothing you can do.”
“Actually, they’re Japanese. And you could tell them not to.”
Usher shrugs again. “The Chinese. Nothing you can do.”
I meanwhile have been drawn into conversation with two American ladies in the row behind us. We learn that there are forty something in their party and that they have been touring Europe for a couple of weeks and are shortly leaving for Prague. MrsSouthDakota tells us that they’d been a bit wary about coming to Europe because of the terrorist situation but in the end decided to brave it. I entertain discussing gun-control in the States but instead we tell her about our travels. We also learn that the earlier kerfuffle was to do with a chair breaking under one of their party who’d then been given a seat by the gentlemanly gentleman with the tremor.
At this point we are unexpectedly interrupted by an elderly American chap who comes up to us and asks “Sprachen Sie English?”
We admit that yes, we do indeed sprache a bit of English. Is anyone sitting in the row in front of us, he wants to know. It is now completely empty, Japanese Mobile girl having gone off in search of Pokemon, presumably. Gone anyway.
The row is empty but you can’t see from there, we tell him. Not a problem, it turns out. They are leaving early and want to sit somewhere where they can make a quick get-away without being too disruptive. AL asks where they are sitting now: in the front row, on the left wing, we learn, and yes, of course we could move there.
So we do and have a lovely view for the second half of the concert: bits from Figaro, Symphony no. 40 and a very spirited Papgeno and Papagena from the Magic Flute. Then the Blue Danube and the Radetsky March with added Audience Clapping. Strauss in Vienna: blooming marvellous.